Monday, September 6, 2010

The Ethics of Editing---A Feminista from 1998

This is the compilation of a discussion that occurred on the Women's Studies listerv around the time of the founding of our journal. We revisit it from time to time to refresh ourselves in what our intention was in founding a feminist journal. We ask that all editors who work with us either on the board or as editors of special issues or sections read this, to bear in mind that we see our role as supporting authors rather than as gatekeepers. Thank you very much. And a special thanks to Ritch Calvin who relocated it from an archive so we could use it on this new blog.


This feminista was developed by consolidating responses to the following post
on the women's studies list on LISTERV.  We would ask editors, writers and
publishers to be aware of the issues discussed, particularly feminist editors
of journals. Please copy, spread the word, post, and contact me if you are
interested in developing this into a publishable article.

"I recently had an article cut by a collective before they had even read the
revisions they had asked for, which took me some time doing.  There was no
commitment to publishing even though they asked me for extensive work two
times.  That was a feminist collective.  My co-editor was asked for revisions
four times by a feminist journal that then did not use her work.  We are
starting a journal partly because of negative experiences of articles being 'rewritten' at the editorial level by people we assumed were not steeped in
feminism or in our content.  Can anyone out there who has experience editing a
feminist journal, or anyone who has contributed to a journal,  help in
formulating a 'feminist ethics' on the editorial end?  I would hope this
discussion would relate to many experiences that many of us had, and could
lead to better responses than 'don't bug me for details' when things like page
length after extensive requests for expansions and deadlines are requested of
the editorial board by the author.  I have read some sociological analysis of
the editors of journals seeing their role as gatekeepers to academe, trying to
make it easier for the would-be's to drop out.  Well, we 'wanna be' better--fairer to authors--and want to hear the rationale that some 'feminists' might have for such spurious treatment of authors as a group."

We are young faculty members, professors emerti, founders of journals, journal
editors, editors of presses and anthologies, conference organizers, writers,
authors, feminists, and frequent contributors to edited collections and
feminist media/platforms, including online lists.  We have experience we would
like to share.  In some ways, our experience has spanned a continuum from what
we perceive to have been sheer thoughtlessness or total insensitivity to our
points of view as authors to what we perceive to have been male-like  power
efforts to silence us as women.  In consideration of the limits of our upaid
time as working women and in some case as working mothers seems highly
hierarchical, un-grassroots and unfeminist.  Frequently we experience power
moves--if you don't like it, this is how we are and shove onward.  Some of us
have gotten the distinct impression that some feminists (for whatever reason)
just don't want to hear/read some points of view from some women authors.
So--they simply cut you off, cut out what you've written, or otherwise try to
silence you.

The ethics of the publishers, which we believe is the essential point to
discuss, some would say, arise from the present economic situation involving
both the "publish or perish" assumption which makes it possible for editors to
believe we will put up with anything, and the mega-mergers going on.  Yet we
believe that there is a feminist ethic for editors & writers.  Formulating a
feminist editorial ethics would start with fundamental respect for any woman
author's point of view as she has crafted it in her writing. 
Editors can
strive for accontability with good footnotes and references. That said, once a
paper is accepted, editors can ask that it fit to a certain length -- but the
author should have right of final edit.  Trust the author, give the author the
power to say what she wants to say the way she wants to say it.  Particular
issues are:  editing for clarity vs.editing that changes the meaning of what
the author wrote; suggestions that enhance the author's intended meaning
vs.suggestions that change what the author is saying or sends into irrelevant
topics; honesty as to what the editors are looking for in their issue/volume;
non-negotiable demands after the article/chapter has been accepted andrevised
as requested;timeliness.
Sometimes, since manuscripts can work with only few minor changes, authors
decide not to send it their manuscripts back to feminist journals who are
asking for revisions again and again again and instead submit them  to
journals that, to be honest, will look better for tenure review.  Many young
scholars in other fields who want to publish in feminist journals to broaden
our audience to include a feminist-minded community, might decide to stick with
discipline-based journals (which will be better for us professionally anyway)
because we get tired of doing revisions for a year and half on 25 page

On the other hand, we have even more unhappy stories about no editing
being offered at all.  And that, too, is a problem not only a problem among
feminist publications, but everywhere.  Publishers don't seem willing to pay
for editors to edit anymore, as so many of us have complained about when we
read overwritten books filled with errors that cry, "Oh, please, someone edit
me before anyone sees what I am in this raw state!" Then there are those
people working at publishing houses on both books and magazines who are
diligent and brand new and think that in order to earn their wages they must
change every word you've written.  The ethics of has to discuss not only the
ethics of the people actually doing and receiving the editing, but the ethics
of the publishers.

In the interest of "professional decency," these events should not happen
again.  The behavior we describe is not only unfeminist by our standards, but
also uncivil, unkind,irresponsible, unprofessional, and churlish:

  *a feminist collective cutting an article from an issue before they had even
read the
revisions they had asked for

  *a feminist journal  asking for revisions four times and then not using the

  *articles being "rewritten" at the editorial level by people not steeped in
or even adverse to the author's perspective or content

  *responses like "don't bug me for details" over asking things like
stipulated page length after extensive requests for expansions

 *continuing to ask for revisions after an author has asked to be told if a
decision will be made by a certain time, as if it could be, when it wasn't

 *keeping an article for three years with four revisions, each one different,
continuing to send it to people who didn't think the author did, and then
rejecting it

 *a journal refusing to print a critique of an article that was based on
invented sources, theory and language in their own journal

 *a feminist journal asking an author to revise a manuscript twice, only to ask
for more major additional changes (with no guarantee of a publication) since
it was still not the article that they wanted to read.

 *sending contradictory messages--one reader comment wanting more,going off in
directions which had nothing to do with the point of the chapter, showing she
didn't understand it or hadn't read it; and others wanting pages cut.

 *significantly changing what was said through the editing

 *non-negotiable cuts at the last minute in the interest of page length

 *so alienating the author that she feels what is being published is not
really hers even though she has her name on it

 *accepting everything and making positive responses initially when editors
are not sure they will get enough for a book, and then weeding out what  they
didn't really want over 18 months by asking for revisions and saying the focus
of the chapotr does not meet the definition of the volume, asking for a
different chapter completely

original contributors to the above, although unfortunately Ruby Rohrlich is now dead:

Batya Weinbaum
Jacqueline Thomason <jackiet@SIRIUS.COM>
Myrna Estep <estem@LAKE.OLLUSA.EDU>16022 Oak Grove, San Antonio, Texas  78255
<> JAMI  (Mary Schweitzer)
Ruby Rohrlich <rohrlich@GWIS2.CIRC.GWU.EDU>
Susan Koppelman Huddis <Huddis@AOL.COM> (Barbara Shircliffe) (Nelda K Pearson)

submitted by Batya Weinbaum, East Hardwick, VT

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